We've been there from the beginning: the first, and the second, so it goes without saying that when we found out about the 3rd Annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, we knew we'd be going. But, we'll admit that last year, even though we were ultimately placated by some of the best barbecue in the country, we were pretty annoyed by the crowds and the lines. Apparently, we weren't the only ones. This year brought some welcome changes, including moving the event from the North side of Madison Park to the East side, providing more space and room for four additional pitmasters (hooray!), and creating the "Bubba Fast Pass" option, a VIP card which allowed cardholders and a guest to access the barbecue tents through a separate entrance, with little to no waiting involved.
But enough about logistics, let's get down to the meat. We started off at Mitchell's BBQ from Wilson, North Carolina, a favorite from last year, with vinegary, tender chopped pork on a bun with coleslaw and crisp, salty pork skin. Pitmaster Ed Mitchell had roasted 30 whole hogs for the event. Next, we went local, with Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, the only New York participant other than Blue Smoke, for a pulled pork shoulder sandwich, drizzled with a modest dose of sauce, along with baked beans.
Our third stop was Southside Market & BBQ, from Elgin, Texas for some beef brisket with sausage and beans. Now the brisket was good -- very smoky and juicy -- but as pitmaster Bryan Bracewell told us, Southside's sausage is legendary; they've been using the same recipe since 1882 and they don't go anywhere without it. They had brought a half-ton of sausage up for the event.
Our first ribs of the day came from Mike Mills, of 17th Street Bar & Grill in Murphysboro, Illinois and Memphis Championship Barbecue in Las Vegas, Nevada, author of Peace Love & Barbecue. Heavily rubbed and lightly sauced, his baby backs were served with some of the most interesting beans of the day -- a combination of what appeared to be pinto beans, kidney beans, and lima beans.
We spent some time chatting with Garry Roark, of Ubon's "Champion's Choice," from Yazoo, Mississippi. Roark's pulled pork shoulder was sauced, unlike the others we tasted. He described the process for us -- the pork shoulders are treated with a spicy dry rub (which he even let us taste), then smoked at 225 degrees for 16 hours. They're hand-pulled, then mixed with their signature sauce. The result? Delicious, flavorful, smoky, tender pork. Roark, a first-timer at the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, said that he was proud ot be a part of the event. "It's an experience I will never forget." Next time, he wants to add a little time to check out the city, as this time around, he spend all of his time cooking for barbecue-crazed New Yorkers. He also invited us to visit him in Yazoo, "I'll treat you so many different ways, you'll be sure to like one of them!"
Our next stop was the Mike "Sarge" Davis from the Whole Hog Cafe in Little Rock, Arkansas, for some saucy St. Louis Spareribs with slaw. They were absolutely falling-off-the-bone tender -- our favorite ribs of the day.
Slowing down, we made two final stops: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q from Decatur, Alabama for one more dose of pulled pork shoulder, then Salt Lick BBQ, from Driftwood, Texas, for a final bit of overindulgence in the form of smoky brisket and sausage, doused with their mustardy sauce. At that point, we were in a serious meat coma (not to mention in dire need of a nap), but we pressed on for the sake of barbecue.
Our final destination was Jazz Standard, for a class entitled "Wine with Swine," taught by Danny Meyer of Blue Smoke. Stuffed as we were, we still managed to taste six wines with tiny nibbles of the barbecue and sides -- the idea was to taste each wine with each food and note your preferences on a matrix he provided. No fancy tasting notes, just a smiley face, a neutral face, or a sad face. At the end, we tallied our preferences and noted that for us, one of the most versatile wines was an El Coto de Rioja Rosado (a rose), and the food that we preferred with the most wines were the hot links, a spicy sausage.
After the class, we had to waddle home for a nap, but we fell asleep dreaming of next year's feast.